More than 500 people protested against the “bikie” laws in Brisbane on February 11. The crowd included unionists, Indigenous and community activists, members of motorcycle clubs, and family groups, who rallied in King George Square before marching through the city to parliament house.
The rally was initiated by the Queensland Civil Liberties Network (QCLN) and supported by the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) to coincide with the first day of the parliamentary session. Rally organisers said it aimed to “spread public awareness about these oppressive new laws and to kick off the Queensland Civil Liberties Network's campaign to restore our fundamental civil liberties.”
Aboriginal leader Sam Watson and Terry O’Gorman from the Council for Civil Liberties led the line-up of speakers.
Watson spoke about the need to keep mobilising, a tactic that was important for defeating previous anti-democratic legislation during the era of former Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson in the 70s.
He drew links to the case of an Aboriginal woman who was tasered in the eye by police last week and is blind as a result. This is an example of what ordinary people can expect from the police if these unjust laws are not repealed.
Despite assurances by the attorney-general and Premier Campbell Newman that the legislation referred to in the media as the “bikie laws” should not worry law abiding-citizens and recreational motorbike riders, O’Gorman said that Assistant Commissioner Brett Pointing had told ABC radio that the laws can be applied to groups other than “criminal” motorcycle clubs.
O’Gorman told the rally: “This is the person who is responsible for policing the law. You’re getting it straight from the horse’s mouth. How absurd is it that bikies affected by the laws cannot be present here tonight … they would get six months jail if they came.
“In the 70s and 80s, when the Liberal National Party had the same majority as now, they embarked on an anti-human rights agenda ... which Newman is enhancing.”
O’Gorman said a month-long state of emergency was called in Queensland during the Springbok Tour in 1971. He said: “In 1977 with the ban on street marches, I remember being here in this Square before a rally of ordinary people where 400 people were arrested in one afternoon.
“The success of the people’s movement saw the Fitzgerald Inquiry, which uncovered serious political maladministration and corruption and police corruption. Fitzgerald put in place a template to prevent this sort of thing. It worked well until now.”
O’Gorman said the laws were brought in after a member of the dog squad was shot in a hold up last year, which was not bikie related, and demands by the Police Union for more staff.
A public brawl between bikies on the Gold Coast the next day was used as a pretext. The media repeated police claims that Southport Police Station was under “siege”.
O’Gorman said: “I dispute the propaganda and lies issued by the police, repeated over and over in the media and now accepted as truth.”
Secretary of the Queensland branch of the ETU Peter Simpson referred to the Courier Mail polls which showed that the LNP could lose 30 seats as a result of the lack of support for the new laws.
Simpson said: “We know that the laws only use bikies as an excuse. Unions are the real target. My union is being charged under the Newman government’s Queensland Industrial Relations (Transparency and Accountability of Industrial Organisations) Act and other acts.
“From July electricians and other contractors risk deregistration if found to be members of clubs listed in the schedule to the ... laws. We are mounting three High Court challenges. It is the plan of this government (and the Tony Abbott government) to try to bankrupt unions.
“We have spoken out against these unjust laws from the start. Unions pay a price for speaking out. The ETU is now mentioned in the Abbott government’s setting up of a Royal Commission into unions in the construction industry. This is because we speak out. But we will continue speaking out … if we stop fighting back we will lose."
QCLN is calling on the Newman government to:
• Restore the rule of law in Queensland, end the attacks on civil liberties under the guise of a crackdown on "bikies", repeal the Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act and the Criminal Organisations Disruption" Amendment Act;
• Repeal the "Out-of-control Parties Laws";
• Scrap plans to strip electricians who are past or present members of a declared "criminal gang" of their licence to practice their profession;
• Restore the independence of the Crime and Misconduct Commission and end the political appointments to the judiciary and vital democratic institutions.
[The next open monthly organising meeting of the QCLN will be 6pm on February 19 at the ETU offices, Merivale Street, South Brisbane. Join the QCLN on Facebook.]